April 13, 2011- In recent weeks, gas prices around the country have surged to levels unseen since the 2008 oil spike. However, market fundamentals are not driving the nearly $4.00/gallon gas prices. In fact, under the Obama administration, oil production is at record highs and there is adequate global supply of crude. As Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) commissioner Bart Chilton has explained, rampant oil speculation, which is at its highest level on record right now, is to blame for current prices.
Currently, the public knows very little about the oil speculation industry because a conservative majority on the CFTC has refused to implement a mandate from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill to curb abuses. Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing steep cuts to the CFTC, hampering any new rules on oil speculation that may be released later this summer. Fortunately, both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the CFTC have so far survived the latest round of budget cuts.
While much of the attention on oil speculators has rested on the backs of investors and commodity traders, the petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries occupies a unique role in manipulating the oil market. Koch has little business in the extraction process. Instead, Koch focuses on shipping crude oil, refining it, distributing it to retailers — then speculating on the future price. With control of every part of the market, Koch is able to bet on future prices with superior information. As Yasha Levine notes, Koch along with Enron pioneered a number of complex financial products to leverage its privileged position in the energy industry.